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Security Threats in Turkey: Which Is More Dangerous, PKK or Gulen?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

During recent weeks, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has launched new attacks in a number of locations in Turkey’s Kurdish regions and has chosen exploding several-tonne explosive packages in those attacks as its new tactic. Of course, the aforesaid attacks have not harmed the Turkish military and have only targeted the country’s police and gendarmerie forces while killing a number of Kurdish citizens and leaving scores of them dead. A bomb blast in southeastern city of Elazığ injured over 100 civilians while explosions in the cities of Diyarbakir and Mardin killed over 10 civilians while leaving about 30 injured. The question is why the PKK embarks on such violent measures and why the leaders of this leftist group, whose affiliates in Syria and Turkey are fighting against Daesh and work with the United States and Russia as an anti-terror group, takes actions in Turkey most of which are examples of “terrorist measures?” To answer this question a number of important factors can be enumerated:

1. The PKK has been defeated and immobilized in the war in mountains. Meanwhile, two major factors, that is, intensification of border security measures and use of advanced intelligence equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles, big balloons equipped with accurate border control cameras, and satellite imagery, in addition to targeted bombardments by Turkish air force in northern Iraq have practically created conditions under which the PKK has not been able to even get close to a border police stations for a long period of time.

2. The PKK took the war into the cities and created a new institution known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) by arming hundreds of young people in cities inhabited by Kurds. However, this unprofessional institution established by the PKK has so far seen more than 5,000 of its members killed.

3. The anarchistic and uncalculated measures taken by the leaders of the PKK, have totally marginalized the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is a legal institution, in Turkey’s political environment, and it is quite possible that the leader of this party, Selahattin Demirtaş, and many of its top ranks would end up in prison in the near future on charges of supporting terrorism.

4. Nobody is aware of the situation of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not allow his intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, to engage in dialogue and negotiation with him, as was done in past years. Therefore, in practice, the case previously known as the peace negotiations with the PKK is no more on the table as the PKK has no significance in Turkey anymore apart from minor security threats it poses from time to time.

5. Winning 80 out of 550 parliamentary seats by lawmakers affiliated with the PKK, which happened through the latest general elections in Turkey, was previously nothing but a dream for Turkish Kurds close to Ocalan and the PKK. However, later conflicts and other strange measures taken by the leaders of the PKK practically did away with that great and historic achievement and stripped Kurdish provinces of security, peace and economic development grounds. As a result, many Kurds have become so disillusioned with such measures that they are no more ready to hold protest rallies at the request of Demirtas and the PKK and chant slogans against the government.

6. The PKK is putting pressure on the Turkish government hoping that it would be able to take more concessions in the case of Syria. However, its leaders ignore the fact that war equations are not the same in the northern Syrian town of Kobani and the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. Apart from that, a major reason behind the PKK’s victories in Turkey was weakness of President Bashar Assad’s government and absence of the central government in northern parts of Syria while the situation is quite different in Turkey.

7. The last factor may be more important than other aforementioned factors under the existing conditions. Turkey has gone through a failed coup attempt as a result of which the government seems to be “preoccupied” and “busy.” At present, Erdogan and his aides see nothing but Fethullah Gulen even in their dreams and nightmares, and this is not acceptable for the PKK. Therefore, the PKK wants through sowing insecurity across Turkey to announce that “we are the main threat in Turkey not Gulen’s followers.”

Which one is more dangerous?

Without a doubt, Gulen and his followers are much more dangerous and powerful than the PKK and the two sides’ power to destroy, threaten and deal blows to the ruling Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish name as AK Party) is not comparable. If all the PKK can do is to carry out terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Ankara or Kurdish cities and kill a few police officers and citizens, Gulen’s power is such that it can take Turkey and the world by surprise through organizing a military coup. In doing so, he can not only push the AK Party to the brink of downfall, but incur billions of dollars in losses on the country. In short, the PKK possesses limited and marginal power as well as limited influence. However, Gulen and his followers enjoy political, organizational and economic power and the real degree of their influence is not fathomable. Nevertheless, none of these realities could authorize the government to forget about the case of the country’s Kurds and the PKK and spend all its energy on Gulen. Perhaps, under present conditions in Turkey the PKK has offered victory to the AK Party on a golden platter through its anarchistic measures as well as rash and illogical decisions, but the government has certain duties and commitments. Therefore, it would be very irresponsible if Erdogan and his aides think that by weakening the PKK, a political, social and legal issue known as the Kurdish case would be automatically sent to the archives.

Perhaps, the most logical option for Turkey is to turn to Demirtas and his allies once again and, at the same time, take advantage of the potential of other political and religious currents of Turkish Kurds, elites and academics and launch a new round of peace talks.

Key WordsSecurity Threats, Turkey, PKK, Fethullah Gulen, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Daesh, Syria, Russia, US, People's Protection Units (YPG), Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, Terrorism, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Abdullah Ocalan, Diyarbakir, Kobani, Justice and Development Party, Kurdish Case, Turkish Kurds, Peace Talks, Dastmali

More By Mohammad Ali Dastmali:

*Turkey’s Future Approaches to Kurds in Syria: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkey-s-Future-Approaches-to-Kurds-in-Syria.htm

*Turkish Government’s Approach to Kurds following July 15 Coup Attempt: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkish-Government-s-Approach-to-Kurds-following-July-15-Coup-Attempt.htm

*AK Party’s Post-Coup Scenarios for Turkey: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/AK-Party-s-Post-Coup-Scenarios-for-Turkey.htm

*Photo Credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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